Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Blogging the Bible: Terrible Friends

In chapters 16-17 Job pushes back. The gist is, “You’re all miserable comforters. Is there someone in heaven to speak for me? God,vindicate me from these lies! You all obviously just want to malign me more, so get on with it”

Notice a few things here.

Notice that first of all, Jobs words are just as heated as Eliphaz’s words. He starts by saying “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all.” While they came to comfort him, it’s not happening. Instead it’s like they are poking him with sharp sticks, and they just go on and on. He says that if the situations were reversed, he could fire verbal bullets at them, but he would not. Instead he would give comfort and encouragements, as he had done in the past, and he would use his words to “assuage” their pain. It’s worth noting the words of D.A.Carson here. “There is a way of using theology and theological arguments that wounds rather than heals. This is not the fault of theology and theological arguments; it is the fault of the “miserable comforter” who fastens on an inappropriate fragment of truth, or whose timing is off, or whose attitude is condescending, or whose application is insensitive, or whose true theology is couched in such culture-laden clichés that they grate rather than comfort. In times of extraordinary stress and loss,I have sometimes received great encouragement and wisdom from other believers;I have also sometimes received extraordinary blows from them, without any recognition on their part that that was what they were delivering. Miserable comforters were they all. Such experiences, of course, drive me to wonder when I have wrongly handled the Word and caused similar pain. It is not that there is never a place for administering the kind of scriptural admonition that rightly induces pain: justified discipline is godly (Heb. 12:5-11). The tragic fact,however, is that when we cause pain by our application of theology to someone else, we naturally assume the pain owes everything to the obtuseness of the other party. It may, it may—but at the very least we ought to examine ourselves, our attitudes, and our arguments very closely lest we simultaneously delude ourselves and oppress others.

Notice next, the cry of distress. Job spends 9 verses crying out to God, telling God how miserable he is. He says that God has “torn me in his wrath and hated me; he has gnashed his teeth at me; my adversary sharpens his eyes against me.” “God gives me up to the ungodly and casts me into the hands of the wicked. While he had been at ease, God “broke me apart; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces; he set me up as his target; his archers surround me”. On and on he goes, Job likens God to a warrior king, who is destroying him,says Roy Zuck. “He slashes” “He breaks,” “He runs upon me like a warrior.” Job says, he is in sackcloth because of Gods attack (sackcloth and ashes being the traditional garb for mourning), and he is in deep darkness. At the end, he still protests his innocence.

Third, notice that he does not just cry out, Job cries out for vindication in 16:18-17:5. He pleads with the earth to “cover not my blood, and let my cry find no resting place”. This is a way of crying out for vindication. He then says, “My witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high.” He believes that there is an advocate that will still come through. This friend would plead his case with God, as a ‘son of man’ (where do we here that phrase later…. Look to the gospels), does with his neighbor”. Job longs for an intercessor that will bring him vindication.Since no mediator could rise above both God and man (9:33), Job wanted a spokesman;a kind of heavenly defense attorney who could speak on Gods level. Jobs companions have not spoken on his behalf, he needed someone who could. Furthermore,he needs that person now. Job believes his days are drawing to an end “For when a few years have come I shall go the way from which I shall not return. My spirit is broken; my days are extinct; the graveyard is ready for me.” Therefore, he needs that person now, because all around him are mockers, and his eye dwells on their provocation”. In the end he says, that while God is against him, only God could provide a pledge for him in court, only God could give a security bond that would guarantee that he would be vindicated, and he believes that God will act,as he declares “Since you have closed their hearts to understanding, therefore you will not let them triumph”. Furthermore, their faithless friendship will mean judgment will come on them “the eyes of his children will fail”.

Finally, note that the section ends with hope and despair.He says that while God has made him “a byword of the peoples”, and “one before whom men spit”, and while he’s becoming skin and bones (“all my members are like a shadow”),“the upright are appalled at this, and the innocent stirs himself up against the godless”. In this Job is saying that his friends are not upright. Even so, he would hold to and grow in his conviction of his innocence (Yet the righteous holds to his way, and he who has clean hands grows stronger and stronger). He continues to challenge the friend to try to find something wrong with him, but says they cannot, because they are not wise (“I shall not find a wise man among you”). His life is fading and his desires are unfulfilled.His friends hold out hope, “They make night into day”, but there is none, “he says, his hope is in Sheol, death, release, but if he goes there, who will see his hope? He sinks into despair, declaring that the worm will consume him, and his hope will be lost.

What’s the takeaway? First, to barrow from D.A. Carson, we should be slow to condemn Job if we have never tasted deep sorrow and loss- but then we most likely will not want to. “To grasp his rhetoric aright, and at a deeper level than mere intellectual apprehension, two things must line up: A), we should be quite certain that ours is innocent suffering. In measure we can track this by comparing our own records with the remarkable standards Job maintained (see especially chaps. 26—31). B), however bitter our complaint to God, our stance will still be that of a believer trying to sort things out, not that of a cynic trying to brush God off.

Second, notice that in the end, there will be no vindication without an intercessor. In the end, Job is hoping for an intercessor. In Christ, we have one. We can hope, not to go to Sheol, and the depths, but the heart of ultimate reality, because of Christ’s finished work. When the darkness closes in, we know that we do have an intercessor, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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